Links Are Not a Top 3 Google Search Ranking Factor

Links Are Not a Top 3 Google Search Ranking Factor

Chicago | October 2, 2023 – Gary Illyes, a notable figure within Google, has recently stated that links no longer hold a place among the top three factors influencing Google search rankings. This statement marks a substantial shift in how Google assesses and ranks web pages in its search results.

In 2016, @andreylipattsev, a respected strategist specializing in search quality at Google, highlighted the significance of inbound links to a website as one of the primary determinants impacting Google Search rankings. This ranking was also influenced by the quality of content and the mysterious RankBrain algorithm.

Nevertheless, Google’s search algorithm is in a constant state of evolution, and it appears that other factors now carry greater weight in determining website rankings. Gary Illyes, an analyst on Google’s Search team, made these observations at a recent Pubcon Pro event in Austin.

“I believe links are still important, but I think people tend to overestimate their importance. I don’t believe they are within the top three ranking factors anymore. They haven’t held that position for quite some time.”

Illyes also added, “It is indeed possible to achieve a high rank without relying on links.” While this may sound like an exceptional case, he cited one instance in which a website had zero links, both internal and external, yet consistently ranked number one. Google was able to discover it solely through the website’s sitemap.

Although the specific factors that have surpassed links in importance were not explicitly mentioned, Google has been increasingly prioritizing factors such as content quality, user experience, mobile-friendliness, page loading speed, and even artificial intelligence and machine learning in recent years. These changes reflect Google’s ongoing commitment to delivering the most relevant and high-quality search results to users.

Google’s John Mueller, speaking on the Search Off the Record podcast, also suggested that links would become less significant as a ranking factor over time:

“Well, I imagine that over time, the weight assigned to links may decrease somewhat as we better understand how content fits into the broader context of the web. Nevertheless, links will always remain important to some extent because they serve as references to help us discover web pages. It’s akin to finding a page on the web without any reference to it.

“But my expectation is that over time, links won’t carry the same weight as they do today. I think this is already a trend that’s been evolving.”

For webmasters and SEO professionals, it is crucial to stay informed about these shifts in Google’s ranking algorithm. This knowledge allows them to adapt their strategies accordingly, ensuring continued improvement in their websites’ visibility within search results.


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